Winter means a lot of things to different people, especially us Minnesotans. Holidays, ice skating, impossible-to-treck driveways, warm fireplaces and toasted marshmallows, chicken noodle soup, snowball fights, the inability to drive anywhere without warming up the car for half an hour… and others. But above all others, the highlight of winter to me always comes down to one thing: it’s Pomegranate season!
Yes, these sweet, purple grenades filled with bundles of tart, juice-filled “seeds” (which in reality are the actual “fruit,” by technical definitions), just waiting to be opened and snacked on when it gets cold. Of Middle Eastern origin (I believe), I think quite a few people throughout the continent have become thankful of the treck these guys have made to land here in the US.
And then we get it, and want it, and crave it… and have to spend an hour or so carefully getting every last delicious seed out with painstaking annoyance. I’m sure we’ve all tried certain methods, only to find them not as succesfull as claimed, or simple struggle in keeping as many seeds unbroken as possible. Whether this is due to bad techniques or simply poor execution can be debated, but either way it leads to frustration.
As such, I thought I’d go over a couple of the more successful and useful methods as I work to salvage as many seeds and juice as possible for a special frozen treat.
Gotta break this open first; a few things I found tell you to cut the top off like an orange, but you’re still slicing through a small cluster of the seeds with that. Same obviously goes with straight cutting it in half; the safest method (with a bit of practice) comes with carefully scoring a line, just a bare few millimeters deep or so, around the tough skin (I think vertically is supposed to work better, as opposed to laterally like I did).
Carefully grasp the scored line with your fingers and pull apart; it can be difficult, since you don’t want to put too much pressure directly on the fruit itself (causing more seeds to burst). Oh, and I think it’s safe to say that by at least this step you should be working over a bowl to collect any falling seeds and escaping juice (it’s impossible not to get a few broken seeds, no matter how hard we try).
We’re about to employ the “beat them out” technique of releasing the seeds, but before that we need to actually loosen the fruit up a bit, otherwise those seeds will just want to stay where they are. Just grab the edges and sort of stretch and work the outside skin a bit, you’ll know when it’s good.
Invert over the bowl, fingers holding underneath, and grab a good wooden spoon or equivalent. The rest is simple: smack it down, HARD, and Many Times. Do NOT be shy, otherwise you won’t get many seeds; well, you’re not going to get them all anyways, but you can get big chunks out with some hard wacks. Don’t forget to rotate the fruit around to get all the “corners.”
Pick out any bit of “flesh” you can (that spongy white stuff, which believe me, does NOT taste good at all… burn it to hell I say) and pour seeds over a fine strainer to collect any juice from potential broken seeds. This can be reserved (say, in a tiny little porcelain lion thumb cup) for recipes or just doing a little health shot.
A slower but seemingly more thorough and less damaging method (and a good one to use with any seeds still left on the fruit after beating) involves that ubiquitous bowl of water. Submerge the cut open and loosened section of fruit inside (I’ve seen some recipes suggest soaking it in there for 15 minutes, I don’t really see the need) and carefully pick through the many clusters with your thumb. The water makes the process a little gentler (it’s hard to say why, you just don’t need to force it as much), and the best part is all that bitter flesh floats to the top.
Of course there are always some small bits of it still stuck to seeds that don’t float, but the majority is now taken care of. Just skim off the top with a strainer and dump to a trash. The one downside of this method is, while the other garners more RISK of breaking seeds, at least you can collect the juice after. With this it all dissolves into the water. Thus why I prefer combining the two.
Store your pomegranate seeds in a covered container with a dampened paper towel and save for snacking or for whatever application you choose.
In my case, honoring the coming winter snows and the classic pairing of pomegranate (or other fruit) with yogurt, I’m trying my hand at Frozen Yogurt with Pomegranates mixed in. The seeds themselves need no more prep than popping in the freezer on a tray beforehand (since we’re mixing them in at the end, this will both firm them up from bursting and retain little risk of disrupting the frozen treat’s all-important ice crystals).
Another reason for my choosing to do frozen yogurt this day was when I researched various recipes; expecting to encounter many a mix requiring about ½ cup of yogurt mixed with 2 cups of crème anglaise mixture, and opinion formed after looking over MANY boxes of Edy’s and other Store Frozen Yogurts during a certain period of lactose intolerance, which had at the point completely and thoroughly destroyed my initial hopes and impressions of what “frozen yogurt” was. Fast forward to my online research in the last week, where to my surprise I found not one, but TWO separate recipes made with 100% Yogurt for their dairy source. I think a few companies have some explaining to do.
But making your own frozen yogurt is pretty easy, particularly with this recipe. You’ll need to get some good, Plain Greek Yogurt (no flavored, it’s all artificial and doesn’t really taste that good anyway), or make your own by straining regular yogurt as I did (hopefully I’ll be able to make my own from scratch at some point, but for now storebought it is). Here’s How:
Take your giant tub of yogurt and upend it into a strainer lined with 2 layers of Cheesecloth. If cheesecloth isn’t readily at hand, or it’s a little pricey for you to buy (the only cheesecloth I can buy is this small 10ft roll at my local Cub, the price which can add up if you were to buy often), you can easily use a clean, white cotton dish towel. I use them a lot, and at the moment have ended up just reserving one or two purely for food use.
Place inside a large bowl and set in fridge to strain overnight, covered of course. The original recipe detailing this states that the amount of Strained Yogurt received after this will be half the starting amount, but ultimately I think it’ll depend on what yogurt you use. Either way, what you’ll end up with is a firm, compact package of what I can only describe as seeming to be a cross between yogurt and goat cheese in texture (and sorta flavor too, but still very strong yogurty).
To this we can now add the very few ingredients needed. For every 2 cups of Yogurt, add ½ cup of sugar-source (raw sugar, honey, corn syrup, etc) and 1 Tsp vanilla or other extract. Though, I don’t like adding in the sugar raw to such a thick substance, so I put it in a sauce pot with honey and a touch of water and heat up to ensure that it fully dissolves and incorporate better.
Mix those together, and place in fridge for at least an hour to fully cool down and ensure complete sugar dissolvement.
Ready whichever device one uses to freeze and churn their ice cream, and add your prepared Frozen Yogurt base. Follow directions for proper churning, and it will be ready when it looks like thick ice cream.
While it’s freezing, we can make the topping: Pomegranate Molasses. Basically put, a thick syrup made from reducing pomegranate juice to pretty extreme lows (if you’ve ever made a balsamic reduction for a sauce, think about 1 or 2 steps FURTHER than that). But we need some juice to do this first, which can be gotten pretty simply.
Just take any leftover seeds one has and pop it into the blender. Cover and pulse until it’s all DESTROYED. Believe me, this is the best way to get juice out of fresh seeds, probably just cuz it acts as a container so that you don’t get exploding juice everywhere. Not that you’re getting a lot of it; a whole pomegranate is likely to only give, say, a half to a whole cup of juice to enjoy. It’s fine if you don’t need a lot, but if at some point you are needing a LARGE amount of juice for some bulk job, just buy the stuff pre-juiced, seriously. Otherwise it’s a lot of bitchy work getting yourself.
Strain into a bowl and transfer to a wide sauté pan. Get it hot, watch it bubble, swirl the pan and do NOT leave it alone. It’s a very thin line between reduction, molasses, and too-damn-thick. Not that it can’t be fixed with a little bit of added water or more juice and heating back to thickness.
Just remember, as with all cooled sauces it’ll be thicker once cooled down, so take it off the heat when it’s a little looser than the ideal thickness.
Now that that’s ready in the fridge and the yogurt is frozen, we can finish and serve. Pour the frozen pomegranates into the churner to mix in (never want to do this at the beginning, otherwise they’ll just break up and make it all purple, won’t have any of those beautiful little pockets). Depending on the strength and style of ice cream maker, though, you may have to just take it out and do it by hand; it DOES get pretty thick after freezing, much easier to get a thorough encorporating with your hands.
Can either serve it as is, “soft serve” (ish), or transfer to a container and move back into the freezer for a few hours or overnight to firm up. Once done, scoop into the preferred vessel of choice and garnish. My toppings included fresh seeds, the molasses, and slivers of handmade candied ginger and ginger-sugar sprinkles.
And there we have it, a classic winter fruit completely taken apart and made into a classic frozen street delight. Though it may not be the first thing we crave with this weather, one can’t deny the mix of nostalgia, fun, and deliciousness. I hope this at least inspires some of you to pick up more than one pomegranate throughout the season and dive into it with a further. Good Luck when you do, and Good Eating when you’re finished.